Category Archives: Training

Race Report: Ironman UK 2016

IMUK Race Report

Race day came around so quickly. I try to spread out the little jobs of race week across the final few days just to fill the time and keep myself occupied. My to-do-list on Thursday was ‘Steady Run. Sort kit. Massage. Hair Cut.’ I considered that a busy day! It’s a nice time to chill and embrace the feelings that surround race week. Checking the weather and boiling up more pasta all begin to fade into one.

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Ironman UK is a well oiled machine, with the Macron Stadium being a perfect venue to host registration, an ever improving expo (if a bit pricey) and location of T2. Nothing mega going on in the goody bag, but if you want to add to your shot of free shower gel, simply do a few passes of the Innocent Coconut Water girl.

The overnight rain had left T1 as a bit of a muddy one. I always leave my bike racked in T1 fairly bare, adding my nutrition, water bottle and spares on race morning. My bike was very damp and needed a wipe down before I could begin the finishing touches. I add my shoes to the pedals, check the correct gearing is good to go. At least I know nothing can get lost or rain damaged overnight if I keep hold of it all.

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Ready to rock, time to head to the seeding pens for the rolling start. Time is approaching. Nervous chat fills the air, crossed with the exhaling track pumps and requests for help with wetsuit zips.

Swim: 1:13:12 / AG Rank: 78 / Overall Rank: 518

My first experience of the rolling start, something IMUK introduced last year. The self seeding pens were paying lip service to the idea of everyone being of similar speed but it was pretty tight in there so just finding a space was a bonus. As soon as you cross the matt, your chip starts so get in the water and crack on sharpo. I’m never going to set the world on fire with my swimming. I found in training that my speed and times of reps had plateaued. I wasn’t getting any faster. But I was getting fitter. I could perform a good swim set or steady state swim much more efficiently. I could hold my splits rather than see them drop off. So I adopted this philosophy for my Ironman swim – OK, it doesn’t matter the time isn’t any quicker, but I’m much fresher for hitting the bike – fitter not faster.

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The rolling start gave us all plenty more room on the straight length of the swim course, with the usual bottle neck appearing at each buoy. Obviously the course tightening comes with the flying elbows and nonsensical kicking as standard. I lost my hat and goggle as a result, but was lucky to save the goggles and only lose the white swim cap. The swim caps at IMUK are decent quality, Arena ones. I opened mine out the packet and straight on my head the morning of the race, but when swim caps are brand new they are a bit chalky and too new. It came off my head fairly easily, next time I’ll give the hat a good rinse and make sure the first time it goes on is not on the walk to the start line.

Pennington Flash is a purposeful venue for the race start. It’s tough to see further than a foot in front of you so there isn’t much to talk about when it comes to the swim. Just focus on technique, try and find some feet and sight enough to stay on track.

Bike: 5:33:40 / AG Rank: 5 / Overall Rank 65

I started the ride with a single water bottle. The first aid station appears after around 15 miles and is a gentle climb up towards this point. I didn’t want to be carrying the extra weight. I still had the bottle cage fixed on my downtube, as well as the torpedo mount between the areobars. The reasons were two-fold; Running out of T1, pushing the bike holding the saddle makes it very unstable with all the weight at the front of the bike and I also prefer not to climb with all that weight on the front of the bike. Secondly I wanted the option to have two bottles. I took two bottles at each aid station regardless. One for hydration, the other to throw over me but discard. The aid stations on the bike were regular enough for me to not have to carry more than one water bottle if I didn’t need to.

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The bike went so quickly. I was overtaking all day. I must’ve overtaken a couple of hundred people. My bike division rank was 5th in comparison to my swim of 78th. Defiantly need to limit the damage of the swim and use the strength of my cycling to move forward rather than catch up.

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The two-lap bike course takes in 4 climbs in total, 2 times up Sheep House Lane and twice also up Hunters Hill. The atmosphere was fantastic at both of these locations. The course is also very technical. The descents aren’t straight and gradual, but twisty and fast. I am a confident descender and enjoy using this to marry out that average speed.

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My bike was great, I felt fast and comfortable and was able to grind out a solid ride that I was hoping would come together from the training I had been putting in and seeing the gains slowly coming in time for a peak on race day. I experience some cramps in my quads on the final climb up Hunters Hill. I got through it, knowing the roll into T2 was not far away. I took everything I had left in my nutrition. I threw the remaining salt sticks down and as much water as possible, in preparation for a marathon that was beginning to warm up.

Off the bike in bare feet and a painful tip-toe across the car park at The Macron Stadium. I’m ready to run the marathon. I knew I’d had a good ride as it was quiet in T2, not many bikes on the racks. I felt good.

Run: 3:44:13 / AG Rank: 6 / Overall Rank: 74

Off the bike, I was in a confident mood. I felt strong. The first mile out of T2 was a brutal rise through a housing estate before a further 5 miles from Horwich into Bolton Town Centre to begin the laps. It was soon I realised I have lured myself into false pretences about how good I felt.

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I headed out of T2 far too excited, far too fast. It was early into the marathon when I started to make deals with myself. The projected marathon time went straight out of the window and I was holding on. Yes, from 6 miles into a marathon, I was in survival mode. I couldn’t face looking too far ahead. There was too much road in front of me. I concentrated on the next 3 yards. I turned my gaze to the floor, sunglasses down and tried to disassociate the pain I was in and let my mind only worry about the next 3 yards. My back was locked, perhaps a result of a slightly over aggressive aero position on the bike or not sitting up early enough on the final roll into T2.

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My stomach began to churn and I needed to have a toilet break to relieve myself in the most literal sense of the word. I thought things were going from bad to worse. I ran passed my coach Paul Savage who was well position for my current state of mind! I grabbed a gel at the next aid station, threw down coke and had a feast at most aid stations. I was craving calories and sugar hits wherever possible.

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I saw my Mum, Dad, sister, brother-in-law and my new nephew Abel soon after, on the brutal little climb out of Botllon town centre. This was a huge moment for me. I had to keep going. This race had to end on my terms. I slowly began to feel ok and decided to push on until the very end. My feet were in agony, I was hot, depleted and so close to home. I was still unable to ignore the aid stations and had to consider every ounce of energy right up until the final few meters. Any piece of extra effort was coming at a huge cost.

Result: 10:39:52 / AG Rank: 6 / Overall: 74

I’m so proud of myself for not quitting. It was the hardest and most mental battle I’ve had with myself in any race. Perhaps I pushed too hard on the bike? I set off too quickly on the run. I didn’t respect the hilly run course in my training so I was surprised at what came on that 26.2 miles.

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It seemed a lot of other guys struggled through the day as well. I ended up 6th in my Age Group which has concequently qualified me for a slot at Kona and a chance to take on the best at the Ironman World Championships on October 8th.

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For now, I’m eating and chilling!

16 Weeks – Time To Get Real

The weekend just gone marked 16 weeks until Ironman UK and the countdown begins!
We had the finance’s two sisters and their fellas visiting from Northern Ireland over Easter without their kids, so they were ready to let loose in Manchester. The girls went off looking at wedding dresses so I was left to entertain 2 Irish guys. To the pub, easy win.
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Took the Irish guys clay pigeon shooting

This drags me down with them I’m afraid. Although I could not keep up so was no point in trying, I did have a few more drinks than I usually can cope with and we ate out a lot over the 3 days they were here. Heavy on the wallet and liver. I pencilled in some shooting to break up the drinking – it kinda worked!
I was happy to have a big blow out to be honest. I’d been a bit under the weather twice in close proximity and was fairly fed up of feeling crap. I had an interrupted block of training, having to eventually give in to the cold and take nearly a full week off training. Even when I eased back into it I didn’t feel 100%.
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Lynsey & I Eating our way through the Easter weekend

The Easter weekend marked a turning point in my thinking and approach to IMUK from here on in. No more messing about with late nights out drinking and eating whatever is put in front of me and then everyone else’s leftovers! I can cope with that much in-take when I am slogging the training, but without it to balance things out, I was slipping into a motivational choke hold.
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Always going to be frosty up in The Peaks!

16 weeks pinged up in my calendar as a reminder that now shit needs to get serious. Although my swimming was looking good, my bike training was struggling. Motivation to throw a leg over the Turbo was creeping further down the list and my running was ticking along with the odd niggle beginning to creep in. My calves have pained me for a few weeks now and then my ITB’s have began to flare up after most long runs. Although they calm down reasonably quickly it’s just another problem to manage. Nobody said Ironman training was going to be simple, so you accept it and work around it.
I love getting out on my bike and savour the long rides now the weather is beginning to take an upward turn. I need to get back on the Turbo and hit those sessions as hard as I was before I contracted the dreaded cold. I took a ride over to Leeds to meet my new nephew. Felt good out on the road, didn’t feel my bike fitness had suffered as bad I’d anticipated. Aside, everybody meet Able Riding, healthy and happy. He’s awesome.
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My new nephew Abel, born 16/03/16

Up next is Wilmslow Half Marathon (see how the legs hold up in that one) and then a countdown to Monster Mojo (a half Iron distance race) will see me bring in the odd brick session to get that lovely feeling of running off the bike back in the muscle memory.
Onwards and upwards…

2016 Return to ‘Brand’ Ironman

After Challenge Weymouth in September 2015, I decided I could squeeze one more big effort at the full Iron distance in 2016. I’d raced Challenge Almere in 2014 and Challenge Weymouth in 2015, the latter really coming up short on the experiential aspect of achieving something HUGE. I signed up for Ironman France, an epic, famous race on the Cote d’Azur, but I’ve since transferred to Ironman UK for 2016 – this is a long story I’ll talk about another time!

The ‘razzmatazz’ – for want of a better word- that Ironman as a brand has when it rolls into town is arguably worth the premium that comes with it. Yes, I am saying Ironman races are worth paying more for, but not necessarily agreeing with that cost – a lesson in diplomacy there! When I did Ironman UK in Bolton in 2013, my first Iron distance race, it didn’t disappoint in making me feel like ‘Anything Was Possible’ to coin the tag line. Challenge Weymouth notably lacked this. Yes it was a cheaper entry point, but the Pavilion where registration was held was a touch shabby, the finisher chute was extremely anti-climatic and as the event was ran as a franchise the organisers struggled to deliver that grandeur Ironman can seemingly replicate week in week out.

It’s similar to the current commercial radio model of ‘National Brands, Delivered Locally’ whereby Capital Radio and/or Heart are well established London born brands that have been rolled out across the country. A clear single minded vision, that filters down from the top under a brand guided umbrella, the experience of listening should be the same in London, South Wales, Manchester, Liverpool etc while maintaing a local touch. Ironman clearly governs centrally and retains its brand values and delivers that experience in the same way, whether that event be in Brazil, Bolton, Texas or Zurich. The success of this models is built on network communication and a defined image that cannot be compromised at ground level.  The stand outs like Kona (and for this analogy Capital Radio London!) are the flagships, they rule the roost, they are a different entity setting the standard. Attracting the biggest stars to their events, blazing the trail of what they do and leading by example. They are the aspirations of every athlete – or listener – that is coming into contact with the brand and these brand expectations need to go above and beyond – at every moment. Clients and commercial partners they align themselves with for example. These established brands have earned the right to be ‘picky’ of who they want next to their logos (you might not hear an ad for The Sun Newspaper on Capital Liverpool nor see Kona take Malboro as a title sponsor!) – protect the brand at all costs!

It will be interesting to see how Ironman re-brand the Weymouth event now they have bought it. Will the juggernaut of WTC demand their brand be protected with a course alteration or venue change (the locals in Weymouth did not like the event being ran on their roads last year!). Much like Capital FM landing in Liverpool, replacing Juice FM, the all new Capital FM Liverpool brand needs to have an impact. It certainly has, with Justin Bieber and Fluer East being part of the launch campaign, so will we will see some big names racking their bikes at the inaugural Ironman Weymouth?

For a moment, whilst I was soaking in the finishing chute at Ironman UK in 2013 I was the star. The 25 meter long finisher chute at Challenge Weymouth was over before I could enjoy the moment. Just look the difference above. Hearing Justin Bieber say your city’s name or being put on-air as a caller to win some VIP gig tickets is also making you the star. Aspirational, they are off to sit in the posh seats with a slap up meal and see their heroes perform on stage. The Ironman just wants to hear his/her name being called and then told ‘You. Are. An. Ironman’. Those few words carry a certain commercial weight that is fully in use from a savvy brand like Ironman.

These two brands are closely related in corporate values, brand awareness and the monopoly presence within their respective industry, but what they fundamentally share is the desire to deliver a better experience on the ground for their audience. It is an uphill struggle for their competitors to replicate. These hugely successful brands capture your mind and for me, it is very difficult to resist the association with the mainstream in both of these cases.

Pre Season Bike Fit

It’s been good to finally get outside and even throw in the odd spring event recently. It’s been difficult to chase those cycling miles over the winter, so I’ve taken the opportunity to mix up the riding and also get the all important bike fit done before the race season rolls around.

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I’ve had the mountain bike out quite a lot over winter and used this as a good alternative to the turbo trainer. The Mountain bike works you hard and has transferable skills for bike handling and is much more accessible in all weathers. Now it’s a bit more bearable to get out on the road bike and clock up some miles in the Peak District hills, it means I’ve not had to sacrifice too many weekends to the indoor turbo sessions. It’s great having North Wales and The Peak District on the relative doorstep of South Manchester.

Bike Fitting at Paul's

Bike Fitting at Paul’s

The time spent not racing was a good chance to get the TT bike dialed in and set up for the season ahead. I had a great bike fit session at Paul Savage’s (www.Physio-Coach.co.uk), tweaking my position to get the best possible fit. With my main races being the British Middle Distance Championship at Bala and the European Long Distance Championship in Weymouth we reached a set up that isn’t too aggressive and means I can comfortably stay on the aero bars for long periods. It’s a thorough process and an important one to get right.

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Getting the bike fit done before the season kicks in means I have plenty of time to get used to it and familiar with the set up as each Mountain bike, road bike and TT bike are all slightly different. I won’t have to touch this again now so everything is on point and ready to go racing.

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My road bike is an old Specialized Allez Sport that I don’t mind running into the ground and is heavy. Once I switch to the TT bike (Cannondale Slice) it feels so slick and light and easy to go quick on. The training effect of the old tank-like Spesh is actually a great benefit when I swing a leg over the Slice. I don’t think I’d be allowed another bike even if I did want to upgrade, as when she reads this, I’ll have to admit that I never did actually sell the mountain bike!

2015 on the way

The cliché look back at the year just gone in January is more of a look ahead this time.
2014 was great. I trained hard and got my rewards on a personal level. I set targets at the start of the year and thankfully these all became reality.
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I captained the Great Britain Age Group team for the European Long Distance Championship in The Netherlands and took nearly an hour of my Iron distance time at the same event. My other goal that was sitting in the background would come later in the year in November at Leeds Abbey Dash where I wanted to get my first sub-40min 10k, which I did with 20 seconds to spare. Happy days.
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I wrote in my race report from Challenge Almere that I felt I had more in the tank at the end and was slightly regretful of my conservative race plan in the end. All hindsight obviously, but it means my target have become greater and more challenging than ever for 2015. I want to further extend that Iron distance PB at Challenge Weymouth European Long Distance Championship, despite being on a tougher course than I’ve raced involving a sea swim. I want to build on that 10k pace and put that sort of time in a standard distance triathlon. I want to race more and at big races. I am doing the British Middle Championship at Bala in June and also doing Greater Manchester Marathon in April to see what I can do fresh in a marathon.

I’m continuing to work with Paul Savage as my coach, one of the best in the business and incredibly knowledgeable and inspiring every time we meet. My plans really work for me and have proven to show results every time. I’ve made a slight tweak to my riding position on the TT bike, which I am adjusting to well. Slightly more aggressive, without being too uncomfortable over long periods on the bars. Although the above video is not actually what I ended up with, it shows the original position I started with and began working with.
At the minute, it’s all about the base. Getting fit and trying to stay healthy for the big January block of training where the hard work really begins.
Christmas and the festive break inevitably saw me add a few extra pounds, while I kept up some running as a tick over.
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Ireland was again a lovely change and good to see the girlfriends family, taking in a change of scenery and a few Guiness’ and large Bushmills. Still with reminders of the Giro from earlier in the year. there is a Gran Fondo on the same roads in June. December was a chance for me to let go a bit, work parties and I was injured for a most of it after my bike accident so it’s doubly important I have a solid start to the year and work hard to get back into the routine of loving training again and kick starting the year properly.
Roll on 2015, confirmed races as of January 2015:
March 1st – MTB Winter Classic at Cannock Chase
March 22nd – Wimslow Half Marathon
April 19th – Greater Manchester Marathon
June 7th – British Middle Distance Championship – Bala
September 13th – European Long Distance Championship – Challenge Weymouth

First Bike Crash

I had my first bike crash of note recently and it’s really put a downer on things. I’ve had some tumbles on the mountain bike over the years, but this was my first road bike accident and it’s been pretty rubbish ever since. I suppose I can count myself lucky it wasn’t any worse but it’s had a massive affect on my training both physically and mentally.
It’s never nice to be injured and I’m not very good at it. I was out in the peak district on my training bike and all was going good. Some nice climbing on a familiar route and I was passed the 3/4 mark of the ride on the descent down the Cat & Fiddle Road which connect Buxton to Macclesfield, very popular amongst local riders. I rolled back to Alderly Edge where I got a train back home. Always worth taking out that emergency £10 note.
In an instant, my front wheel tucked and down I went. I bounced to other side of the road. Like I say, lucky it wasn’t any worse as an oncoming car would have been the end of me. A deep gash on my elbow and forearm led me to Manchester Royal Infirmary A&E to get it cleaned up. On first inspection, I could see some white in there and went into a little shock when I believed it was down to the bone. We had to miss the Badly Drawn Boy gig we were meant to be going to that evening.
Nice Gash

Nice Gash

Overall the bike survived with some badly bent bars, which I’ve replaced along with new tape for less than £20. Fitting bar tape wasn’t actually as difficult as people made out it would be! I was also lucky I didn’t take out the TT bike because I had played around with the position recently and it was a dry day to begin with so I did think about it! Carbon doesn’t bend, it would’ve just snapped!

I had to take a full week off training, letting my wounds heal over and avoid any infection. All I could then start doing was turbo sessions and runs on alternative days. I’m out of the pool until well into the new year until the elbow completely heals. It gets a bit funny in the shower still, so there is no chance it can survive an hours swim session. Its frustrating as I was going to go into December with a swim focus and try to really beat myself into good swim shape to start the new year. I avidly follow a plan set by my coach Paul Savage and when I have to deviate from this it sends me out of kilter. With my injury history I know I cannot run too hard too often. I have been long turbo sessions and steady runs to try and build some base fitness, but I feel I’m on hold until I can fully get back into training in all 3. Another note worth making is Paul was the first one on the phone to me that evening to see what had happened, a testament to a great coach. I uploaded the ride before going to A&E so I had something to look at in the waiting room!
I now can’t wait for this year to be over and the Christmas party season is over and I can draw a line in the sand and almost begin again. My routine has been shaken and my head has not been in it while I recover. I’ve let myself off and admittedly blamed the injury for me doing so.
January will kick off in style with a really clear focus for 2015. My race calendar is slowly coming together and I have some clear dates to work back from which will hopefully not seem too far once the year starts. I’m sure not having anything to train for in the immediate future has also prompted some laziness but it’s high time I got myself together and make up for some lost time. I need to swim – a lot!

Post Triathlon Blues

Post Triathlon Blues is something I’ve never really had. When I completed Ironman UK I was such a high for completing the event I never came down from that and almost enjoyed the pain I was in because I knew the process I’d been through.
2 weeks on from Challenge Almere and I wouldn’t say I have ‘The Blues’ per se, but I have been constantly thinking about my race and noticed more than ever that the training is absent.

I consciously talk myself out of doing any training, instead I started walking home from work (roughly 5 miles) just to keep some activity going. The weather was good and it was a few days until pay day and the tram is a fiver!
What are the ‘symptoms’ of post triathlon blues?
– Missing the challenge of training
– Everything seems like an effort
– Sadness
– More time on your hands so you’re bored
– mood swings

Nutrition can play a part in the mood swings as the body is now super sensitive to sugar and I’m probably eating more but minus the training. I’ve put on over half a stone in weight in 2 weeks and it was a bit of anti-climax being able to let loose on the Domino’s and curry and beer and wine. I thought I wanted it more than I needed it. Moodyness probably comes from thinking how my race could have gone better, but then balances out by thinking about how it could have gone worse! My stresses of water in goggles, getting beat up in the swim, mechanical failure on the bike or punctures or blowing up on the run never materialised. So that’s good. But I wasn’t in bits like I was after IMUK and feel I may have left something on the table during my run. But when I tried to pick up on the pace on race day, my hamstrings were tight, so perhaps that was my best performance for the day. It’s easy to forget the good things about a race when it went well and heighten the minor ‘could haves’.

Wine & a bath after IMUK 2013

Wine & a bath after IMUK 2013

Taking a two week break was important to rebuild my hunger for training and rushing back into anything may have delayed any enthusiasm I had for returning, focussing on what can be done in the future rather than what has happened in the past. My mind needs a rest as much as my body. I was having trouble sleeping when I returned to my usual routine of work in Manchester and couldn’t really concentrate on things for too long. I was unmotivated to do anything; housework, the big shop, everything was an effort. I had devoted so much time to training and sacrificed little things like drinking and late nights, my routine had been solely based around training rather than anything else, so taking this away overnight was massively noticeable . Without the adrenaline and endorphins released from training there was no real reason why I had to do anything at all.

Crossing the line at Challenge Almere 2014

Crossing the line at Challenge Almere 2014

It’s good practice to write down a race report and something I’ve always tried to get in the habit of doing. I have a record of went well and it’s documented for next time. I never saw training as a burden and was always up for it, and when both my body and mind are no longer active it’s been difficult to replace it. I believe I needed this tunnel vision to get up for training and my race and wouldn’t change anything in my build up for my ‘A’ race. Placing such emphasis on it makes it a big deal to me personally and therefore something I don’t want to risk fucking up! I train alone so have no social aspect that has been taken away, just my own sense of well being.

I’m not overcoming post race blues, but I have enjoyed getting out on the mountain bike again, something I put away for most of the summer while I hit the Ironman training hard. I didn’t want to risk injury or be using up energy on the MTB that could be spent on road miles. It’s nice to not have the clock running over my rides and just being out doing things I want to do rather than the things I have to do.

I’ve signed up for the Leeds Abbey Dash in November, a 10k flat road race. It’s a reason to get back into some good running and have a structure back in place. I’ll be back in the pool, social riding and on the turbo for just the one day a week.
My coach Paul Savage has again fired up the plans and will continue to be my main man for 2015. Now Paul and I have worked together for a couple of years I appreciate he knows my body, my injuries and what I am capable of more than anyone and I’d find it very difficult to go this alone. I do as I’m told and it’s worked every time so far.

My 2015 calendar is beginning to take shape with a few races pencilled in, which is great to have set so early on:
MarchWilmslow Half Marathon
AprilManchester Marathon
JuneBala Middle Distance Triathlon – British National Champs
SeptemberChallenge Weymouth – European Long Distance Triathlon Champs

Reference to more on Triathlon Blues is in Mark Kleanthous’ ‘Triathlon. The Mental Battle’

Same Old Race Prep

My name is James and I am a nerd. It’s a good admission, one I’m not scared to say out loud.
I always take my race prep very seriously and for Challenge Almere this was no different. Literally, I did nothing different in my race prep and made sure that this was going to be the case. Although this time I was travelling abroad, living out of a hotel for 3 days before the race.

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Self Catering
I took my own pasta, bread, peanut butter, jam, honey, orange juice and even the toaster just to make sure I could have what I wanted when I wanted it and not rely on any outside factors disrupting that.
I ate plain white pasta and some chicken I grilled in garlic and turmeric that was batched up in Tupperware and put in the cool box for Thursday and Friday meals (race day was Saturday). I had the toaster just in case the hotel kitchens were not open at 5:30am on race day. I did attend the pasta party on Friday early evening, mainly for the social aspect, and I had some of their plain pasta and bread – I didn’t take the sauces, so true to this philosophy, I wasn’t going to risk it.

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If It Ain’t Broke…
I had my last long ride the week before Almere and the bike was superb, running like a dream, so I didn’t need to strip it down and rebuild it – why? I’d be risking it not going back the same way. I did tighten everything, check it over several times and took it for a spin on Friday to triple check the gears were clicking, the brakes were ok and nothing had worked its way loose in the car journey.
It was a warm day on Friday (24C) when I racked the bike, so I deliberately let some air of the tires, thinking the afternoon heat could expand the tires and cause an overnight puncture. I would be checking the air pressure on race morning anyway, so I’ll just do it then.

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I spent a lot of time in the transition area until I got bored of it. I eyed up a flag that was directly in front of my bike and I was 3 rows back from there. I walked up and down, until I was really familiar with the place.
I had thought about another way of securing my spare tubes on the seat post, getting rid of my obscure hanging saddle bag that every rider politely reminds me looks like is hanging off, but again – why? I’d hit my training times with this saddle bag on, so why try and switch it up now? So it stayed. A little to the right, but it stayed.
I saw the press release from Challenge Almere that the race would be sponsored by High 5 gels on the run, so I bought a box of 20 of these to train with. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a bad reaction to them and I knew what they looked like, what they tasted like come race day.

Easy Research…
My bike nutrition had been tried and tested several times in training which I mentioned in the race report.
A few guys had problems out on the bike. A frayed gear cable eventually gave way for one, a pedal arm worked its way loose for another, a bad reaction to the caffeinated sports drink caused a DNF and one fella had to run 8 miles back to his hotel after bike racking. All massively avoidable problems.
I checked with the race organisers via e-mail that it would be ok to wear my race number belt underneath my wetsuit from the start (not allowed in Ironman races) and familiarised myself with the rules for a different branded event. Another chap was DQ’d for removing his helmet while he fixed a puncture.

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Control The Controllables…
I was actually quite calm in the few days leading up to the race, because I was never on the hunt for anything I needed. I knew it was all under my control and I can’t wast energy worrying about the things that aren’t.
I carried 3 spare tubes, but didn’t need any of them. I had two spare chain links, but didn’t use them. I had 2 too many salt sticks taped to the bike and carried 1 more Go Bar than I needed. I’d rather be bringing them home than coming up short. I threw away the sports drink I had accidentally been given at a bike aid station as I’ve never had it before.
I trained in my GB Age Group Tri-suit as this was new to me. I did my long Ride and Run Brick sessions at 6am every weekend, because it was the same time I would be racing at.

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Pour Preparation…
I even knew how difficult it would be to find Guinness in The Netherlands and I was dammed if I was not going to have that after 3 months of sobriety, so into the cool box that went. Along with a bottle of champagne we had saved from our trip to Epernay, France. Even my post race (drink) problems are fixed!
Basically, I try and leave nothing to chance. The only thing I did leave was the toaster and said bottle of champagne, which has pissed a lot of people off.
Russell Hobbs & Dom Perignon probably don’t go into too many sentences together, which is ironic as they are the only two things we needed to make any kind of a toast.

Race Report: Challenge Almere 2014

Race Date: 13/09/14
Race Type: Iron Distance
Result: 10:38:35 / 12th AG
Performance: Played the percentages 9/10

My 2014 ‘A’ Race is done! In windy and warm conditions at Challenge Almere, I went around The ETU Long Distance Triathlon Championship course in 10:38:35 – a 51 minute PB.

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Flat and windy was the forecast for the event and it lived up that. For a Brit, there was literally no hills to talk about on both the bike and run course, just a savaging headwind on the 60km Coastal road.
The whole week was fantastic, from getting the ferry, to meeting up with the other Great Britain Age Group athletes and sharing the trip with my parents and girlfriend Lynsey.

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Swim 1hr 11mins:
This was not my best swim, but also an improvement on what I had recently been going through in training so I can’t be too dismissive of the performance. The water was murky, weedy (not even the Amsterdam type of weed) and busy. The Age Groupers set off 10 minutes after the Elite start cannon and it was brutal swim for the entire fist lap, it never seemed to settle down. I was in the main group, taking a few elbows and whacks here and there, but I never let it get to me and just cracked on. There was nothing to write home about the swim, just focus on technique and get it done.

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I was deliberate through T1, finding my bag and putting my helmet on. It felt very empty inside my Bike Bag, as I had attached the shoes to the bike and all my nutrition. Wetsuit in and away we went. Transition was based in an underground area for both T1 & T2 and I was familiar with where I needed to head in and out from. I had walked through this area the day before and memorised my bike rack position. I did a full race mount and got straight into my pedalling.

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Bike 5hr 32mins:
The course was flat and windy, much like the non-alcoholic pint & subsequent side affects thereof that was being handed out at the finish.
99% of the course was on the aero bars. The coast road being the main punishing factor, I’d almost of preferred a hill. The wind was relentless and nowhere to hide. We had to do this road twice and watch my speed drop to 17mph for the duration of the road. The second lap was actually a bit easier as I knew what to expect and how to cope with it. Just head down and once this is out of the way, you’ve broken the back of the bike course. There were a few cattle grids that can’t help but make you a touch nervous, but I managed to avoid any punctures or serious mishaps, trying to pick the speed back up to 24mph for the return to Almere.
It was a lonely ride, not littered with support, but the turning point made for a brief encounter with some spectators before heading back out – alone.

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There was plenty of drafting going on, which will always be there I guess. Once they were busted and had to break up, I picked them off and went by. I passed nearly 100 people on the bike leg, putting in the 79th best ride time of the day, averaging 20.3mph so in relative terms, I had a great ride.
I also took the decision to pee on the move! This was almost forced upon because of the GB Age Grouper full Tri suit and going to the toilet wasn’t going to be easy all day. I prefer the two piece. I remembered to whip off the nutrition from my seat post and put this in the tri suit so I didn’t piss all over my lunch. Something Paul had wrote about in his IM Austria race report! 
Although as soon as I stood up to pee and roll, I was coming to a stand still on the flat roads. So I had to pedal again and try and pee again. I was consuming 1 bottle of water between each aid station, but began to take on 2 bottles for a little shower. I had not taken two bottles to avoid the extra weight. I pee’d once more on the bike, this time when I had the wind behind me to try and maintain some rolling speed. This only meant my pee overtook me in some kind of Urine Whackey Races.

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I was talking to myself a lot on the bike, especially on that coast road. Just telling myself we’ve done this once and it’s all good from this corner, all the way home. I never really went into the red zone and felt happy to maintain the effortt for the distance, with still some running left in the legs.
Nutrition wise, I took on half a SiS Go Bar every half an hour after the first hour. I had 1 bottle of Lucozade Sport at the beginning of the ride and then sipped water throughout. I chewed on a pack of Jelly Babies as and when I fancied. This was all rehearsed several times in training so I knew it worked for me. I was accidentally handed a bottle of energy drink at an aid station, and when I had sip, I threw it away immediately. I wasn’t willing to try anything new today.

The dismount line into T2 wasn’t very well thought out, immediately after a sharp bend with no signage, which caught a few people out. Again, I had the feet on top of the shoes and right leg leading for my race style dismount. I was on with the socks and run shoes and straight out in what was now turning into the hottest part of the day.

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I had very gratefully borrowed Paul’s Garmin for the bike, keeping my Forerunner 110 full and ready to rock for the run. I turned the watch on and searched for satellites with 5 minutes to go on the bike.

Run 3hr 47mins:
It was getting warm and I was conscious I hadn’t ran in this heat for a while in training. My longest run had been 17 miles at 8min/mile. I felt great. It took 3 miles to get my back stretched out and loosened up after being aero for so long on the bike. It was 6 laps of a 7k course around the Weerwater we had swam in that morning. 6 laps had its pro’s and con’s. I was able to see my family and have that to look forward to, but on lap 4 when I realised there was still 2 more to go it began to play mentally. I do have a little mantra to turn to at times which always works. I took a gel every 6 miles, as per training, and cola every 3rd aid station (aid station were 1.5k apart) and water at every one, just little sips as the aid stations were so frequent. I began to to walk through the aid stations in the second half the run, which took my average pace down, but I was more concerned with making sure I had fuelled correctly in this heat. The wind had disappeared by now!

That's my Mum with the flag!

That’s my Mum with the flag!

I ended strongly with my fasted mile coming at mile 25. It’s an odd feeling to know you had something potentially left in the tank, but if I had have pushed it earlier I may have blown up. I was perhaps too conservative with my pacing or at least my effort and over compensated for the unknown. My hamstrings were feeling tight but manageable at my pace, so to have gone even a touch fast may have flared these up.

Myself, Lynsey, Dad & Mum

Myself, Lynsey, Dad & Mum

A massive thank you to my coach Paul Savage, for all the sessions, plans and massages and encouragement. My girlfriend Lynsey for putting up with my sobriety, early nights and long rides. Mum and Dad for following me and supporting me at anything I decide to take on. Rob, Rachel & Nige from the Capital Breakfast Show for their well wishing and patience. And also Dawn and Emma at British Triathlon for making me Team GB Captain, which I enjoyed being part of.

I can’t be too disappointed and I’m not! I made up over 100 positions from getting out the water, put in another strong bike split and claimed a marathon PB. I finished 12th in my Age Group, 9th in the European Long Distance Champs, and qualified for the 2015 ETU Long Distance Champs at Challenge Weymouth – but what if…

(Time) Trial & Error – The 100m/10m Brick Revisited

I had a re-run of my 100 mile and 10 mile run Brick session I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I blew up on the run majorly the first time of asking, so this time I was determined not to repeat that. What I learned from the first attempt was a possible mishap with nutrition, pacing and general naivety!

I stuck strictly to my nutrition plan on this second attempt, taking in half an SiS Go Bar every half an hour after the first hour, with a handful of jelly babies. This is the general formula of 1g of carb per 1kg of body weight. I sipped plenty of water, taking in 6 bottles all together. I had a High5 gel 5 minutes before the end of the ride and most importantly this time I took a gel on the run at 5 miles and also sipped water throughout. The latter is what was lacking in my first attempt and paid dividends in this second run.

BRICK Analysis

BRICK Analysis

I actually rode quicker, averaging 0.5mph faster over the 100 miles with 21mph. I then held my 8 minute mile pace on the run and didn’t get too excited when I felt good and stayed at this pace throughout. I set off too quickly previously and paid for it later.

Overall, I’m very happy with this and it is the final century ride I will do before Challenge Almere in two weeks time. Tomorrow I take the mileage down to 80 mile ride and 3 mile run brick, all done at the same target pace. This will lead into a week of training heavier at the start  of the week and then begin to taper down from 8 days out race day.

It’s good to repeat this session and prove to myself I can do the desired pace. It’s also good to find out this early about my nutrition plans as this is now set in stone as to what I will take and use at what times and just how much. Hydration being the main point.

I rode the same flat course, in similar conditions on the same bike and set up, just tweaked the nutrition.